Not Buying It

Imagine a world without shopping.

Some of you may shrink away in horror at the thought. But if you’re like me, shopping isn’t a recreational activity to begin with. Okay, well, except maybe on those visits to IKEA. Thank goodness it’s far enough away to qualify as a travel destination.

After reading the book Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping (Irony: Amazon affiliate link in the sidebar, but I borrowed a copy from the public library) I got it in my head, “well, I can do that.” After all, I’m trying to be more frugal so I can travel more, and I just can’t think of a lot of things I need to buy. Like author Judith Levine, I sketched out boundaries of how I could practically quit buying things.

I settled on consumption as the main qualifier. If I was paying for a consumable – groceries, a dinner out, lodging – I’d still spend the money. It’s tough to be a travel writer, especially in the middle of a project, and not do that. But otherwise, my Lenten pledge to myself was to Not Buy It. Acquisition of objects wasn’t going to happen if I could help it.

It didn’t take long before I was prepping to go away on a research trip and realized that some file folders would be a smart idea. I was in Big Lots with them in my hand when the Not Buying It mantra rumbled through my head. Oops! I put them back on the shelf and walked out. Stopping there to shop was a reflective reaction to a “need” I had internalized on my way home from the bank, and it wasn’t until I left that I starting thinking about how often I did that in everyday life when I ran errands – picked something up at Walgreens, or Target, or Dollar General when I was on the way home from somewhere. Did I really need that stuff?

Three weeks on the road commenced. When I travel for research, I’ve gotten in the habit of picking up little doodads for family gifts and buying books everywhere I go. On this trip, I’d walk into gift shops and actively suppress the urge to buy. At first it felt pretty weird, but after a while, it was simply a relief. Research-wise, however, I was in a quandary. It helps to buy local history books, but did I need to?

I agonized long and hard over the first one. As I handed the director a $20 bill, she said “now this is a donation – we don’t sell books.” Saved by the small print, but it still felt like I was cheating on my promise. I promptly handed the book over to Mom so I wouldn’t “own” it.

By the end of my 40-plus days of Not Buying It, I thought I’d done pretty well. I wasn’t perfect, but I stayed pretty close to the mark. A few oops:

– I bought postcards to send to family and cards to send thank yous to people who helped me with my travels (I ran out of the ones I brought with me)
– I bought another history book that I knew I needed and was afraid I’d never find again
– I bought a 99 cent e-book and a WordPress theme before realizing that virtual things are things, too.

Much as Judith Levine discovered in her year of Not Buying It, the act of not acquiring things is a toughie when you’ve been born and raised in a consumerist society. The best part about my experiment, beyond the cash savings, is that I’ve become much more aware of when I’m spending money, and I pause and think about it first. That’s a valuable lesson.

If you’re trying to be frugal, or at least get a grip on your own spending, you might find some inspiration in these blogs that I follow on a regular basis:

Becoming Minimalist
Miss Minimalist
The Non-Consumer Advocate